Springfield Falcons Season Preview
The recently completed training camp of the Springfield Falcons featured, at the outset, a roster that was short on name recognition.
Camp itself is over. Now, with a roster that looks somewhat more like what Scott Howson, Chris MacFarland and Bruce Landon envisioned last July, the team has now entered into final preparations for the regular season that starts this Friday.
This will be the second season that the Falcons are the primary affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season, everybody was new here...including the coaching staff.
So far, things have appeared to move forward in a well thought out manner. Not just by head coach Rob Riley, but throughout the Falcons organization.
An analysis of the season ahead follows after the jump:
The nucleus of the roster is now in place. Falcons fans, as well as Jackets fans, should recognize several players who played here last season.
Tomas Kubalik - Tomas had a great camp with Columbus. If it were not for a concussion suffered in the first pre-season game, it's possible he'd still be up top. Kubalik, as a rookie, led the Falcons in scoring last season.
Dane Byers - Byers came to Springfield in a November trade with the New York Rangers. The then Hartford Wolfpack captain was sent in exchange for Chad Kolarik (who recently underwent knee reconstruction, and is out for about 6 months). Dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline, he signed a free agent deal to return to the Jackets.
Wade MacLeod, Aaron Bogosian and Denny Kearney - all joined the Falcons at the very end of the season last year. Each made a positive mark on the lineup, and similarly all had a strong camp. Kearney especially has been impressive with his speed, physical play and scoring touch.
John Moore - John was recently assigned to the Falcons. His rookie season last year featured plenty of highs (played his first NHL games) and lows (last on the Falcons in +/-). Moore's experience last season should give him a jumpstart over many other defenders in the AHL this season.
Cody Goloubef - Cody had to fight for ice time through the first part of last season. By the second half, he had emerged as a legitimate bright spot among Falcons defensemen. Another player who had a good camp with the Jackets, Cody could be on the Falcons first defense pair.
Brent Regner - Brent's first season in Springfield was good. He made the most of his ice time and his positive attitude off the ice were a plus for the community. As with the others who played here last year, having that full year of experience will only be a benefit to him this coming season.
Anton Blomqvist - Another one of the players who joined the Falcons at the end of the season. The sixth pick of the Jackets in the 2009 draft, big things are expected from him as he embarks on his first full season in North America.
Starting the season are Allen York and Paul Dainton. Both came to the Falcons after completing their college careers last spring. York came to the Jackets organization with high expectations. Dainton, undrafted, burst out of the shadows of UMass-Amherst and played well for the Falcons and then parlayed that into a good camp for Columbus.
I wrote an analysis of the Falcons schedule on September 10th. If you missed it the first time, feel free to check it out now. I'll wait.
Something relevant to keep in mind with the AHL scheduling, is that regardless of divisional alignment, the league promotes geographic rivalries wherever possible.
Thus, in a 76 game regular season schedule, we see the Falcons meet their I-91 rivals the Connecticut Whale (NYR) 12 times. Quantitatively, next come 10 games with the Providence Bruins (BOS).
The next most frequent opponents are the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI), Worcester Sharks (SJ) and Portland Pirates (PHX). The Falcons take these clubs on eight times each.
Those five opponents account for slightly more than 60% of the Falcons regular season opposition.
Looking at schedule trends, I found as many positives as negatives. There had to be balance somewhere in the schedule. Trends aside, an absolute MUST for the Falcons is to improve their home ice play this season.
Last season at the MassMutual Center, the Falcons went 18-19-2-1. Of the 18 wins, two came in overtime and two more came in shootouts. They'll unquestionably need to perform better at home this season.
It goes without saying that the Blue Jackets made some great moves this summer. Trades and signings that on paper, should be a big benefit to both the big club as well as the Falcons.
Injuries and the suspension to James Wisniewski notwithstanding, if both clubs can stay strong through the month of October, and let the rosters get back to where they were intended, both teams should enjoy strong seasons.
It's been a tough time to be a Falcons fan. No playoffs for the past eight seasons. Only one trip to the post season in the past eleven. The last time Falcons fans saw playoff hockey that lasted past the first round was in 1997. Dismal? You betcha.
Expectations are high this season. It all starts this Friday night in Manchester, NH.